Leaders Don’t Have All the Answers, That’s Okay

Photo by Headway on Unsplash

People look to their leaders for answers. But the truth is, leaders don’t know everything and that is actually a good thing. The best leaders are those that have the humility to recognize and acknowledge what they don’t know. You see, great leaders build teams filled with people that complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses, making the team highly productive.

While leaders don’t have all the answers, many weak leaders will do one of three things below or a combination of them. Great leaders handle these scenarios differently and that is what makes them great.

  1. What Often Happens: You fake it until you make it. The people you lead are generally very perspective and can recognize when you are inauthentic.
    How You Should Handle It: Admit you don’t know and instead ask someone that does know to teach you. Use this as a learning moment and a chance to bond with your teammate.
  2. What Often Happens: You wait too long to give a response because you are busy searching for the answer independently and trying to save face. You lose credibility when you are MIA. How You Should Handle It: Inform the who asked the question that you do not know the answer, but that you are looking into it. While you are looking for the answer in a transparent way, be sure to keep the team informed along the way. Also look for ways to collaborate with the team and other co-workers to find the answer.
  3. What Often Happens: You say you know the answer and spout out nonsense. When you bloviate about knowing something you actually know nothing about or you say one thing, but act in another way, the team instantly loses trust and faith in you as their leader. How You Should Handle It: Tell the truth. Don’t make things up to appear more knowledgeable than you are in the subject matter.

The key take away is to admit when you don’t have the answer and then work with the team to find the answer. By letting down your guard, you are not only showing humility, but vulnerability as well. When leaders embrace humility and vulnerability, it makes them more relatable, demonstrates to the team members that they don’t have to know everything, minimizes egos, and leads to better problem solving.

The next time you are asked a question you don’t know the answer to, respond by saying, “I don’t know the answer to that, but let me look into it and I’ll back to you.” You might use your resources to find the answer. If you take this path, include the team member in the correspondence and make introductions, thus allowing them to learn alongside you.  Another option is to call a team meeting to brainstorm the solution. Take it one step further by allowing the person who asked the question to lead the meeting. Creating collaboration moments allows the team to work through solutions together, empowers others to lead, and together you likely will come up with a far better solution than if you just figured it out on your own.

Another benefit to showing humility is that you are modeling the way for your team members. Once they hear you say that you don’t know everything, it is likely they will come to you with more questions. Further, they will likely admit to their peers that they don’t have all the answers either. In the end, your team members will come together to help each other and learn along the way. As the leader, it is your responsibility to create a supportive and open environment for your team to learn and grow.

The key to leadership isn’t knowing everything. Leadership is about humility, vulnerability, the courage to be truthful, relationships, and open communication. When you let your ego down and actually lead the team to the answer versus just tell them, you’ll experience far better results and your effort will compound.

As a leader, how do you tackle questions or problems you don’t have the answer to? Share your tips in the comments section.  

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